America owes a debt of gratitude to our veterans, military personnel and their families who have sacrificed and risked their lives for our freedom, security and livelihood. Because of their continued sacrifices, my commitment to them is to make their transition back to their communities positive, timely, supportive and seamless; and that I will seek ways to care for their wounds, both seen and unseen.
Solutions that will honor and support our veterans, service members and their families in the areas of education, jobs, health and wellness, preventing homelessness, and improving veteran services are below.
I believe that our veterans deserve an equal chance to reach for the very dream they fought to defend, and that every returning service member deserves a real chance to afford a college education. So in 2011, as an Arizona State Senator, I sponsored SB1223, which allowed for honorably discharged veterans, regardless of home of record, to qualify for in-state tuition at our public colleges and universities.
As a Congresswoman, I will work to ensure veterans are able to achieve higher education not only because it is the moral thing to do, but because an investment in our veterans is an investment in our nation. One priority should be to amend the Post-9/11 GI Bill to allow veterans to pay existing student loans with their benefits, including student loan debt incurred in previous semesters. I will also work to expand the GI Bill benefits to veterans that want to go on to graduate school. We must also continue to fund and expand the resources to effectively implement the GI Bill and other veterans’ education legislation.
While Congress is part of the answer, it’s not able to solely support our veterans. All Americans have a duty to ensure that our veterans receive the investment and support they need, which is why I support efforts of public / private veteran-focused initiatives like the Pat Tillman Foundation, the Madison Street Veterans Association, or the Fisher House Foundation to ensure that our veterans and their families get the world-class education they earned.
No one who fought for our country should have to fight for a job when they get home. That’s why removing barriers and creating economic opportunity for our veterans and military families should be of utmost importance. Veterans are highly qualified for the civilian job market but are unemployed at greater rates than the national average, often times because they have difficulty translating their training into civilian careers and employers often times have misconceptions about veterans and their capabilities.
As an Arizona State Legislator, I made the needs of our veterans and military families a top priority, and in 2011, with bipartisan support, I passed SB1458, which made it easier for the spouses of service members stationed in Arizona to obtain a business license and get a job.
In Congress, I will support President Obama’s efforts to ensure our veterans have jobs when they return from service through programs such as My Next Move for Veterans, a new online resource that allows veterans to easily discover civilian occupations for which they are qualified; and the Military-to-Civilian Skills Certification Program, that will help thousands of service members obtain industry- recognized certifications for the trade skills they learned and worked hard to master while in uniform. I will also work to pass the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, which, in addition to expanding education and job training opportunities and providing tax credits for businesses that hire veterans, allows service members to apply for federal jobs while still in service, allowing for a more seamless transition to civilian life when they are discharged.
We also need to encourage businesses to hire our veterans. To this end, I will advocate for the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior Tax Credits for businesses that hire unemployed veterans, including a higher credit for those that employ veterans with service-related disabilities.
Health & Wellness
The rising cost of health care for our service members and veterans is, in the words of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “… eating the Defense Department alive.”Our nation has an obligation to deliver to our veterans their well-earned benefits. So even in a time of budget constraint, we should never balance the budget on the backs of our veterans, like some Republicans or the Ryan budget proposes.
If elected, I commit to:
- Oppose a voucher system of any kind for our veterans’ healthcare.Vouchers put a dollar value on a veteran’s service.
- In many rural areas, community health centers may be the only medical facility a veteran can reasonably access without spending a full day riding in a car or bus. I’ll stand with congressional Democrats to encourage Veterans Affairs to work closely with the Department of Health and Human Services to promote and fund the use of these community health centers. VA healthcare should both be high quality and accessible.
- Require the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to work together to reduce the backlog of disability claims processing, benefit approvals, and funds disbursement to veterans.
- Women have been and will continue to fight right alongside men, and need a healthcare system that provides them the same opportunities for excellent care while also responding to unique health care needs.
- I will defend and expand the Veterans Health Administration’s women veteran support efforts, a comprehensive multi-residency training to over 500 providers in women’s health at all VA facilities.
- Support the expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act to allow caregivers to take leave to care for family members after they have left the military, rather than just for those who are currently serving, as the law stands now.
- Support the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, which expands mental health and counseling to veterans, allows theVA to use hospitals outside theVA network to treat returning service members, eliminates co-pays for disabled veterans, and provides maternity care for female veterans.
- Protect and defend the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act, a bill that funds all veterans’ medical care a year in advance, so Veterans Affairs can expect sufficient and predictable funding even in the case of a government shutdown.
Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury
Because PTS and TBI are invisible wounds, they are often ill understood, stigmatized as something less than a physical injury, and thought of as signs of “weakness” by those that do not understand them. They are real wounds, however, and have immense and long-lasting impact on service members and their families. We must educate and better understand these injuries in order to erase this negative stigma. To that end, I will advocate for the continued funding and expansion of the VA’s efforts to treat those suffering from PTS and TBI, and also revise, simplify, and reduce the paperwork and bureaucracy needed to receive treatment and compensation. I will also support increased funding for the VA’s medical research centers, which are leading the way in developing cutting-edge treatment for TBI.
Prior to the Iraq war, military suicide rates were below civilian rates, but have now risen dramatically to one per day—far above civilian rates. This is unacceptable. The Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Congress have an obligation to continue to take every measure possible to improve the care available to those who protect our country. It has been shown that VA access leads to lower suicide rates, and the DoD and VA have taken measures to reduce veteran and service member suicides, including: increasing the time between deployments, adding more mental health care professionals at hospitals, create a suicide prevention hotline, improving tracking and outreach, and implementing screenings and assessments for at-risk veterans. I will protect, defend, and expand these efforts. I will also work to develop and support initiatives from local VA medical facilities and veteran service organizations to ensure veterans are tied to their communities through support groups and other social events.
Military Sexual Trauma
Military Sexual Trauma is vastly under-reported and contributes to a number of post-service issues that too many veterans must face. While the government has implemented programs for MST prevention education and universal screening for veterans, MST continues to increase. In fact, the rates of sexual assault in the military population are significantly higher than in the general civilian population. Combating its prevalence will require a cultural shift within the military, which will take time, but there are numerous pieces of legislation that have been introduced that will undoubtedly expedite this shift. I believe we should start with additional education for recruits. The military must also implement a policy that requires a swift response to reported incidences, and one that binds to confidentiality the chain of command, chaplains and medical professionals. These policy changes will demonstrate the seriousness with which the military considers sexual assault and harassment, and help protect victims from retaliation. Lastly, VA staff and counselors must receive better training on how to treat and recognize MST in returning service members. MST often co-occurs with PTS, drug and alcohol abuse, and other issues that complicate the transition back to civilian life.
Veterans are 25% more likely to be homeless than nonveterans and on any given night, tens of thousands of veterans go homeless. While cases have decreased by 12% since January 2012, there is still much work to be done. The battle to end veteran homelessness is one that can be won, but only with Congressional, local government, and community collaboration.
As a Congresswoman I will protect, defend, and advocate for the Housing and Urban Development and VA’s Stable Housing Program (HUD-VASH) that helps homeless veterans find and retain stable independent housing, a program proposed to be cut by both Mitt Romney and the 2011 Ryan budget.
The best way to get veterans the care they need and deserve is to make sure they are registered with Veterans Affairs, which is why I would support and expand the VA Stand Down Program, one to three day events in different cities across the country that provide services to homeless veterans such as food, shelter, clothing, health screenings, VA and Social Security benefits counseling, and referrals to a variety of other necessary services.
I will also work to expand the Supportive Services for Veterans Families Program, a VA-sponsored effort to provide health care, daily living, personal financial planning, transportation, fiduciary and payee, legal, child care, and housing counseling services for homeless and at-risk veteran families.
Improving Veteran Services
Each administration within the Department of Veterans Affairs currently has its own record keeping system. These separate systems are neither cost-effective nor user-friendly. Not until recently were plans developed to sync and modernize these systems. We need to continue this work, and any other efforts that will help ensure we do not reduce, tax, or eliminate VA benefits.
Our veterans deserve a simple, easy, and fast system to process their claims and receive their benefits.
If elected, I will:
- Continue to support the combined efforts of the Department of Defense and VA disability claims process to reduce bureaucracy.
- Continue to fund and expand the online benefits process that leverages the latest information technology.
- Continue to fund VA efforts to reduce claim processing times for all benefits – medical, educational, disability – by hiring more claims workers.
- Work with the DoD and VA to continue to educate and advise the active duty, guard, and reserve personnel of their benefits and of the benefits to which their family members are entitled through social media, workshops, and events.